The Design History Reader is not a tempting book to say the least. It is a thick volume featuring an image of a desirable iconic product on its cover, and it is constructed in section upon section of anthologies of academic articles accompanied by abundant bibliographies, references, and notes. And this is precisely why it is a rare and important book in the world of design which is renowned for its beautiful books that are devoid of academic content. A large proportion of the articles are well known key works that can easily be found on the internet or other anthologies of articles. However, the fact that all the articles have been collected into a single volume engaging in the history of design, divided into themed sections and periods, is definitely out of the ordinary in our world.
Design is generally examined in relation to art, and in light of the latter’s glorious history and the difficult relationship between the two. However, as a very new field in terms of research, design still lacks a sufficiently broad theoretical foundation that can be employed. Design researchers, most of who came to design research from other fields, employ the same theories familiar to them from their own field. The most commonly made connection is between design and art, but recent years have also seen studies based on theories from the fields of anthropology, semiotics, philosophy, and even engineering. It seems that in order to research design it is necessary to establish broad knowledge in neighboring fields and become familiar with the great writers who influenced Western culture as a whole before attempting to embark towards development of any design research theory through combined thinking and analysis by means of theories that do not directly engage in design.
The book is edited by Dr. Grace Lees-Maffei of the University of Hertfordshire and Rebecca Houze of Northern Illinois University, both of whom are American researchers of design history. Each of the book’s sections begins with a general and important introduction by one of the two editors that “puts things in order”, and concludes with multiple bibliographical references and a guide to further reading.
Authors include design researchers such as Penny Sparke, Victor Papanek, and Victor Margolin, alongside more well known key works by Roland Barthes, Walter Benjamin, Karl Marx, Adolf Loos, Jean Baudrillard, and many others who influenced the development of culture in general and the field of design and its construction in the twentieth century in particular.
The book can be found in all the university libraries and the established design and art academies in Israel, and for the more adventurous it can also be purchased on Amazon.